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Massage Therapy as a Medical Treatment

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Massage Therapy as a Medical Treatment

Aug 16, 2023

While massage has long been associated with spa relaxation, its role in addressing pain, mobility issues, and stress is gaining prominence in clinical settings. Learn from licensed massage therapist Casey Humphreys, LMT, about the evolution of massage therapy, from luxury treatment to a recognized medical intervention, and how to select the right therapist for your needs.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Maybe you've been dealing with some back pain with your primary care provider or a physical therapist for some strength after an injury, and your doctor prescribes not medication, but massage. Can massage really be used as a means of treatment?

To help us better understand massage as medicine, we're joined by Casey Humphreys, who is a licensed massage therapist with University of Utah Health.

Changing Perceptions of Massage

Now, Casey, when I think of massage, the first thing that comes to my mind is something like a spa day or some form of self-care, kind of a luxury that's saved for a very special day. But you're working at a medical center and you treat patients within the U Health system. Now is it just my misconception, or is this pretty common?

Casey: I think it's a common misconception, and we're certainly coming a long way in the industry. So yes, I'm a licensed massage therapist, and I work for University Healthcare and definitely cater more toward clinical medical massage. But I often will say this, when we think of massage, we think of it as a luxury service that only we get on our birthdays, anniversaries, or vacations on the beach.

Interviewer: Sure.

Casey: And yes, luxury, just spa treatments, right? But the reality is it's therapy, just as it is in the name, and that it's needed. In everyday life, we all can benefit from massage therapy.

Interviewer: So not masseuse or a masseur, I guess is the other word I was seeing online?

Casey: That's, thank you for that, kind of come evolving. I think, let's just be honest, there sometimes can be a negative connotation when we think of massage, massage parlors, masseuse, masseur. In school, this goes back 15 years, that was one of the first things they taught us is the verbiage with it, that we're massage therapists. So I will often correct people in a kind way when they say masseur because we are therapists. We're licensed. We're educated, and our intent is to heal and to actually provide healing for people who are sick and in pain.

Massage Therapy in Healthcare

Interviewer: Talk me through that a little bit with the kind of clinical therapy that comes with massage. What conditions are you treating? Is it a holistic thing? I mean, what did you learn to do, and how can it help people?

Casey: Sure. First of all, I love what I do. I feel blessed to work for the U, University Healthcare and to give them credit. Well, and in our conversation, the fact that massage therapy has a place, has a room, has its own special area within this major healthcare system of the U says a lot about how far we've come, where it is legitimate healthcare in the eyes of all those involved. And so my experience, my training, my specialty has always been more sports massage, clinical, medical, working for chiropractors. And with the U, I've been with the U about five years and I cater towards that, helping people.

The point is to make you feel better once you leave your session, right? Like you come with certain ailments, certain things, and we're there to help to alleviate it. And so within the U, we have referrals from doctors, we have from orthopedics, physical therapy, neurologists, patients who deal with arthritis, all of the above really. It just, it runs . . . I have clients as young as 11 up to 94 and really all in between, all elements in between. Migraines, oncology, Huntsman patients, all of it, we deal with, work with and it's neat.

Clinical Applications of Massage Therapy

Interviewer: Yeah, it sounds like it. So I guess what are some of the like broad . . . You listed a lot there. It sounds like a lot of people could be helped. But what are some of the main kind of even umbrella terms for some of the conditions that clinical massage therapy can help treat?

Casey: Neck pain, back pain. Again, this isn't to say that it's necessarily a set condition that one person has where they still benefit from massage and not be viewed as, again, just a luxury thing. We work at a desk every day. We sleep wrong, and simply life takes a toll. Stress, aren't we all just stressed in this life too? We clench our jaws at night because we're stressed, and so massage alleviates that. We're doing deep tissue. We're getting in there. People, the posture and they feel it. People are in pain. People live with pain daily, and the vast, vast majority of regular people simply live with pain and discomfort.

Massage Therapy for Pain Management and Relief

Interviewer: So I want to take two seconds there for massage as a type of treatment for pain management and relief. If someone comes in to, say they have the clenched jaw, right, and it's something that they're constantly hurting. It's causing migraines, whatever it is.

Casey: Sure.

Interviewer: Like how does massage help manage that pain? Is it a short-term relief, or could it potentially be long-term as well?

Casey: Yeah, good question. So like I said, tension comes in and it shortens our tissue and that creates those knots that we have, that buildup of tissue. And we can all relate to that, right? We can all kind of feel it in ourselves and the tightness and hunching over. A massage helps lengthen that tissue, restore what gravity does to us, and also just give that relief. So we get in there. We find the spots. We find where there's buildup. We apply the pressure and we simply are lengthening the tissue. And in our jaw, we find the little knots. We find where the stress is. And with experience, I've learned how to find those spots and kind of relieve that tension.

And for as long term, I mean one session, you can find much relief, but generally it is needed because life is daily, right, and stress is daily. And so also that's the misconception that it's not just a once-a-year thing. Really, we can all benefit from monthly massages, six weeks, whatever one can manage. But honestly, the benefits are just all there and should be a priority for lots of people for overall health.

Massage Therapy for Mobility, Flexibility, and Tissue Health

Interviewer: So you were also talking about the lengthening of the tissues. Is that the same, getting those knots out and getting some of that tension, is that why one of these other things that I have been looking at is that massage can help with mobility and flexibility, say for people who have had an injury or just age? Is that what's going on, or is it there's something else going on with the tissues there?

Casey: Absolutely. Just like I said, life just takes its toll on us. But we lengthen, and it's about movement, flexibility, just overall wellness. And I always say it's not like it's hard. It's not rocket science, but we've got to move. We have to move our bodies. We have to stretch, and massage helps with that. We even usually incorporate some stretching into it. So all of the above helps out. And like I said, it's just really the life that can affect the tissue as it does. But massage, stretching, drinking water, being hydrated, it's just the overall mindset of well-being. And yes, massage helps with that.

Massage Therapy for Mental Health and Stress Reduction

Interviewer: So moving a little past the strictly physical, I guess massage also can help with one's mental well-being. I've seen a couple of studies here that talk about the long-term effects of reducing stress, anxiety, etc. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Casey: Sure. I mean, who doesn't love to get a massage, right? There are some people. To be fair, to answer my question, there are some people who might have an aversion to touch. But mostly it's time to give back to yourself. And so we say it's not a luxury, but that's not to say that we can't enjoy giving back to ourselves, right? It's good for our mental health that we're doing something for ourselves. Because we're going, running in this life. We're all busy again, just doing all the things. So we're taking a moment to just be, to just slow down. Therefore, yes, there's that effect positively on one's mental health, on one's stress that you can take one hour in your day to just breathe, just relax. And physical touch, that just in itself is also healing and positive. And some people yearn for just a positive physical touch. There are studies. There's research that that adds to less stress in our lives.

How to Seek Massage Therapy as a Medical Treatment

Interviewer: There's plenty of it can help with pain, it can help with mobility and flexibility. It can just help with a kind of holistic approach to your health and some mental well-being in there too. Now, say a patient or a listener is curious about maybe seeking out massage therapy as a means to treat a medical condition.

Casey: Sure.

Interviewer: Do you have any advice for them? Or is this something that should be worked through with the PCP? If they're curious, what are the first steps and what advice do you have?

Casey: Yes. Check with your doctor. This is not me sitting here saying, "Massage is your cure-all solution to everything."

Interviewer: Right.

Casey: Working for the U, I think it's beautiful that we can work cohesively with practitioners where, again, we have the orthopedic doctors giving referrals and the PCPs. But it's a community. It's a system. And one should appreciate all these approaches. It's not just necessarily one answer to wellness. So massage adds to it, absolutely.

And we discuss this in our sessions. We always have kind of a moment to debrief and talk over one's conditions, how they're feeling, the spots, what their doctors have said. And usually, it is quite intricate. They'll tell me what's going on, what PT has said, what their aches are, what they're feeling.

So it's a tool. It's a tool, and it can greatly help with everything. But that's not to say that it's everything. And yes, check with your doctor. Keep up your appointments. Take your medications. Do what you need to do. Drink water, your diet, exercise, all of it. But massage coupled with all of that is a wonderful tool for healing and wellness.

How to Choose the Right Massage Therapist for You

Interviewer: Now is there anything that a person should be, say, looking for when they're trying to find a massage therapist to kind of complement their healthcare and regimen? Do you just go onto Google and find whoever? Or are there things that people should be looking for?

Casey: I don't know if I have the full answer to that, but it can be a journey. It can be a process finding the right therapist for you. Everybody is different. And it can be trial and error, of course. I've heard some people seek more of that deep tissue maybe, you know, the pressure. So some people don't want that much pressure, right?

Interviewer: Sure.

Casey: But I know in the medical setting, in the clinical setting, most of my patients enjoy that. Just it is kind of that vibe of wellness, and some people can feel more comfortable maybe in a clinical setting with it. There are just phenomenal massage therapists out there. In Utah, there's plenty with years and decades of experience. And it's about healing, and many just have that gift. And so it's finding the right fit for you. Obviously, you want to look for an educated, licensed massage therapist. We go through the training, schooling, and clinical hours. We take the test to get certified. Then we renew our licenses. So yes, like look for some legitimacy in that process because there are certainly many, many of us who have done all of our due diligence.

Insurance Coverage for Massage Therapy

Interviewer: Is this type of treatment something that insurance would cover?

Casey: It can, yes.

Interviewer: Okay.

Casey: And luckily, again, we're kind of the theme we're evolving. Massage therapy has evolved. And so more and more, yes, insurance companies are recognizing massage therapy as a legitimate therapy and needed. And I wish they would get on the ball faster as far as preventative healthcare, but yes, that is possible. You can oftentimes be reimbursed. Also, if the center, the place doesn't take insurance right away, usually the massage therapist will be making notes of your visit, charting notes, and of your condition. And so that can always be provided as far as documentation for insurance purposes. And in a perfect world, yes, insurance would cover massage as they should.

Interviewer: As always check with your provider . . .

Casey: Yes.

Interviewer: . . . and so forth.

Casey: Yes, absolutely.

Massage Therapy as a Tool for Healing and Wellness

Interviewer: Wow. So I guess one of the things, as someone who is kind of on the outside who hasn't done a lot of massage treatments myself, can you share a story of, say, a patient that you've worked with and where they started and where they ended up to give me and some of the listeners an idea of something that they could maybe look forward to?

Casey: A lot of first-time patients, clients that come to me and not knowing much, and some can be wary. And let's be real, let's understand that sometimes it is you're meeting someone new, and yes, typically you disrobe, your comfort level by the way. But that can be new and foreign and stressful for people. But it is beautiful when you find people that can fully appreciate when they leave after the session and, "Oh, my gosh, I feel that. I feel the difference," in one hour and they are out of pain. And it is, it's beautiful.

I love what I do because it's very fulfilling. I hear that feedback all the time. They leave after they come in just hurting and feeling it. And so the benefits are there. So yes, try it. It doesn't hurt. It's not for everyone per se. And I said that earlier. Some people don't love physical touch. But there are benefits, so many benefits. And try it. Why not be out of pain? Why not be a little less stressed? Life is hard enough.